Last week, Parks and Recreation worked to set in place the show’s new dynamic, showing how well its story mechanics can work even with its characters in disparate locations and new positions. It’s a difficult thing to do, something I don’t know of any sitcom ever pulling off in the past, yet Parks pulled it off admirably in the season’s first episode. “Soda Tax” on the other hand… didn’t do so well.
Let’s start with what did work, though, because this is still Parks and Recreation, and the main reason why the episode is being marked down is in relation to how good it usually is. One of its main stories features Chris, and to a lesser extent Tom, training Andy for his police recruitment. Chris’ motivational method backfires, though, when his own reasons for staying in physical shape, or doing much of anything, seem non-existent to him. When the pair goes out to a track to race, he collapses, and when blood tests show he’s fine, he finally agrees to Tom’s suggestion that he seeks therapy. Not only has Chris’ increasing despair (it’s difficult to say whether this cyclical or part of a mid-life crisis) been a small but important plot for the show for a while now, this is a fitting direction for things to turn and Parks and Recreation is taking his issues seriously. Plus, the storyline is an excuse to get Chris and Andy together, which always means plenty of great jokes, and putting Tom there as well means most of the show’s funniest characters spent the episode playing off of each other.
The rest of “Soda Tax” had some hilarious moments, especially in the first half of the episode, but both storylines seemed too pat and obvious soon after. Of course Leslie has some doubts about her new position as City Councilor, but making an entire episode be about this so early seemed ridiculous (she’s just not that type of person), not to mention that it followed pretty much the same arc as every one of the show’s numerous “Leslie has self-doubt” arcs in the past. We know from her first moment of hesitation that she’ll meet up with Ron and he’ll get her back to her usual self, which is exactly what happened. The scene with the actual soda cups was great, as was another of Pawnee’s meetings, but, especially for the first time we actually see Leslie working as a councilor, this was a letdown.
But worst of all was Ben and April’s story. That the show skipped over April living in another city—despite this forcing her apart from her clearly beloved husband for a job she seemingly doesn’t care for—is the first strange thing about this storyline. But it’s also that her actions in the office seemed more childish than we know she can be, especially if she’s apparently that devoted to this job she suddenly has that she’s willing to leave Pawnee, and Ben’s goal of sucking up to the well-connected interns falls almost completely flat.
Not one of the stronger episodes, though there were a few parts that had me laughing hard. However, Parks and Recreation isn’t like a Seth MacFarlane show, and it isn’t all about the laughs. At this point, fans care about every single character on it, and have learned to expect intelligent storylines every week. It’s only a tribute to how good Parks and Recreation consistently is that these small disappointments feel bigger than they really are.
•So how long is April going to be with Ben? And… why?
•I could list all the wonderful names of Pawnee restaurants, but instead I’ll just mention Paunch Burger and let that one speak for itself.
•”Most people call it a gallon, but they call it the regular.”
•Well, now we all know how much volume a liquified two-year-old takes up.
•Glad there’s an explanation as to how those screw-ups ended up in a super competitive Washington internship. But even so, that seems a bit unrealistic.
•“Whether or not I pay income tax is none of the government’s business.” – That line is worthy of a t-shirt line.
•“We’re not taxing anyone’s genitals.”
•“Nothing: the silent killer.”